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April 12, 2018 BASEBALL


Alex Perez

Alexis photo

The second to last time I saw Alexis he’d thrown off his helmet and flung it over the backstop and was blocking home plate, waiting for the runner rounding second to greet him with the collision he always wanted and had never gotten. We were twelve at the time, prepubescent little leaguers, so the possibility of a home plate collision was a near impossibility, but no matter what the score was or who was running, Alexis always positioned himself in front of the plate as if he were guarding us from impending annihilation. We knew no one would ever challenge him, because in a league full of at risk youth, Alexis was the craziest among us. He cried after every strikeout and sometimes wept after a homerun, as if he couldn’t handle success or failure or anything in between. More than once, when the game was close, I saw him bite a chain link fence until he pissed himself. He bit the fence, I think, because he didn’t know what else to do when he sensed that we were about to lose, and to Alexis, there was no greater tragedy than that of a little league loss. 

After a loss, I’d seen him throw his gear in the garbage and denounce baseball altogether. One time, after we blew a game in the ninth, Alexis stripped to his jockstrap  and ran to centerfield, where he plopped down and screamed for a good five minutes, until my father, the only one who could calm Alexis, told him he had to be quiet or he’d be benched the following week. I was there for all of Alexis’ breakdowns over three seasons, because my father was the only coach who would take Alexis. He took him because he was the only one who knew what had happened to him a few years earlier when his father ran a red light and slammed into a wall. What had happened was that Alexis survived and crawled out of what was left of the car and found his father’s decapitated body on the hood. When the cops arrived, Alexis was on the sidewalk cradling his father’s head. He was five years old. 

We never knew if Alexis was crazy on account of his finding the head or if his own head had been scrambled into madness from the crash, but it didn’t matter to my father and it shouldn’t have mattered to me, which is what he told me the day before Alexis was coming to sleep over. I didn’t want him in my room, fearing that he’d kill me in my sleep or rape me, or perhaps if he was having a good night, merely shit on my chest. The only thing Alexis did, however, was wake up in the middle of the night and sit on the floor, cradling the pillow we’d bought for him. 

I’m saying all this to make clear that no little leaguer in his right mind, future gangbanger or not, would attempt to collide with the crazy Alexis, but on that day, as the pudgy kid labored past me—I was the shortstop—and was being waved home by his coach, I knew something was about to go down. My father must’ve known it too, because he was walking out of the dugout before the play was over. When I saw this, I started jogging toward home, nearly cutting off the fat boy, but when the kid was five feet away from scoring, Alexis, who had ignored the ball thrown by our centerfielder, couldn’t take it anymore. He put his head down and rammed into the fat boy, who released a bestial scream and then went silent as he collapsed. I was the first to reach him, followed by my father. We looked at each other, convinced that Alexis had killed the poor kid. The benches and the stands emptied, but Alexis, stripping and screaming, was already climbing over the centerfield fence.

The last time I saw Alexis was ten years after the incident. I was in town from college and had left a bar with a girl I’d been hoping to hook up with when I heard familiar screaming. I stopped walking and squeezed the girl’s hand. After Alexis had been banished from the league, my father tried to keep in touch with him and help him in any way, but not soon after, Alexis had been lost to the streets. We figured that eventually we’d see Alexis’ crazy face on the evening news after he’d jumped off a bridge or bit a dog’s tail off or who knows what. It had been years since I’d thought of him, but it all came back to me, the crying and the meltdowns and the ramming of the poor fat boy, when I heard the screaming. By the sound of it, he was no more than five to ten feet away, but I couldn’t see him. He was in the alley leading to my car, and if I was to hook up with the girl, I would have to face Alexis.

I knew that the alley, just as the area in front of home plate once belonged to him, was his domain. The girl kissed my neck. Alexis screamed, but the girl didn’t seem to be hearing him. Was I hearing things? Had I drank too much? Was the ghost of crazy Alexis following me? Alexis screamed again. The girl bit my ear. These opportunities, I knew, were few and far between and you had to take them when you could, so I steeled myself and entered the alley. I started running, hoping the girl would think my sprint some spontaneous romantic gesture, and luckily, she did, laughing as we approached my car. I’m home free, I thought, but just as I was going to make it out of the alley, a man appeared out of the darkness and blocked our passage. It was him. 

The girl screamed, and Alexis responded with a scream of his own. Then he stepped into the light and took the position, knees slightly bent, chest out, my dad had taught him so many years ago. He looked exactly the same, just dirtier and sadder. He was shirtless and wearing cleats. 

“Alexis,” I said. “Do you remember me?”

Alexis didn’t respond and put his head down like he’d done the second to last time I’d seen him. He was not going to let us pass, my only hope being that he’d bowl over the girl instead of me. We’d been teammates after all. 

“The Bandits, Alexis,” I said. “We were Bandits.”

Alexis didn’t say a word or scream or come at me, but sat down like I’d seen him do that night in my room. Did he want me to ditch the girl and sit with him in his alley? Did he want a hug? Or did Alexis want to play one more game for old time’s sake and block the plate like only he could block it? I’ll never know because I took the girl’s hand and we walked past Alexis, who didn’t look up at me when I looked down at him.


image: Aaron Burch